Early to Bed, Early to Rise

I spent my early years in East Cambridge (Our Fair City). I was the quiet little brother, and for as long as I can remember Tom was 12 years older than me. In fact, he still is. Tom and our sister, Lucille, to this day say they didn't notice me until I was about five years old. Mom claimed one morning Tom came into the kitchen and said, "Hey, who's this little kid who's always following me around?"

I can't say that I remember much from my early childhood, except it was wonderful. I had everything a kid could want: two square meals a day and a basket to sleep in and an imaginary dog. I do remember one thing, however. Mom always had us in bed at 7:00. If I were any kind of a person today, I'd be working this out in therapy. I never got to watch TV or do any of those fun things the other kids did. I'd lie in bed, and wafting through the window I would hear the sounds of my playmates outside. Talk about breaking a kid's heart. I was all tucked in with my blankie on a warm summer night, and they were frolicking in the streets. I think Tommy had to do the same thing too; I'm not sure. As a result of this, Tommy and I refuse to go to bed. When it's time to go to bed, you won't find us anywhere near a bed or under the covers. Sofas, chairs, kitchen table, you name it-anywhere but under the covers.

Grandma Pockets the Dough

RayI got my start in show business when I was four or five. My grandmother (Mom's mom) lived with us, and Grandma's job was the shopping. Every day she and I would make the rounds to the bakery, the butcher shop, the grocery store, etc., and at each stop it was up to me, little Raymie, to get out there and sing and dance for all the other grandmothers--all in Italian. Yep, I'd sing these songs from the Old Country, and all the old ladies would go nuts. They would throw all this money at me. Of course, my grandmother would pretend that I was getting it all. Then when everyone left, she'd pocket most of it. She would keep 90 percent and give me 10 percent. She didn't understand the agent-talent relationship. All that change probably paid for that Lincoln Continental she bought.

I was a chunky little tyke. Mom says that Dad always wanted to call me Chunky, but there was already a candy bar with that name so they settled on Chucky, which is what I've been called, it seems, forever. I have cousins who to this day don't know my real name. No kidding.

Taking Things Apart

For as long as I can remember, I've loved to take things apart to see how they work, and as a kid I'd take things apart and put them back together again over and over. That was my hobby. Take it apart; put it back together again. We were lucky the Museum of Science was right down the street from where we used to live, and Dad and I would go there almost every weekend. I got interested in becoming a scientist. Overall, I was pretty quiet as a kid, and my childhood consisted of standing around and watching Tommy take his car apart and then watching him desperately trying to put it back together again. Tommy owned a number of cars while we were growing up, all of which, as you might suspect, were complete junkboxes, veritable heaps of automotive refuse. Some things never change.

Hide and Seek on the Mean Streets

When I wasn't hanging out with Tommy, I was playing all the regular school-kid games. We didn't have a park or playground to play in, and we certainly didn't have any grass. Our park was the street. We played hide-and-seek and tag and stickball and, later on, spin the bottle. That was my favorite. Well, actually, playing doctor was my real favorite.

But our neighborhood was great because we had a million kids. I could literally walk out the door and there would be kids everywhere to play with. It was great. The city was a lot of fun. You had the nice kids, the jerks, the weirdos, the tough kids--and I really got a lesson on how to deal with all kinds of kids. This may be the single most important thing that kids don't get if they grow up in the suburbs, where everyone is pretty much the same.

In the city you have to deal with everyone. There were some mean kids, and there were some really nice ones too. One of the first kids I met was from Italy. This occurred during one of my many years in kindergarten. This young fellow didn't speak any English, and he wore these funny clothes and little sandals--a lot like Tommy dresses today, come to think of it. I spoke a little Italian from all those songs I had to learn to buy Grandma that Lincoln. So we became fast friends until I moved away from Cambridge in fifth grade. One day, 20 years later, he came into the garage to fix his car, and, of course, I recognized him immediately. He was still wearing those stupid little sandals. It was nice to get reacquainted. We're now best of friends again, and of course his English is much better.

Heartbreak: A Different Alice Hughes

I went to the Gannett School for seven years. It was right around the corner from our house. It was a four-room schoolhouse, kindergarten through third grade. You do the math--one teacher for each grade. By the way, my siblings and our mother went to the same school, and I think we all had the same teachers. Anyway, my favorite teacher of all time was Alice Hughes. I had her for second grade and again for third grade, or maybe I was in second grade twice; I don't remember. Anyway, many years later at the garage, a customer named Mark Hughes came in and said, "My mother would like to bring her car in." So I say, "Sure, what's her name?" He says, "Alice. She's a retired school teacher. She used to teach right here in Cambridge a long time ago." And I thought, this must be the Alice Hughes that I loved. So one day this little old lady comes into the garage, and I introduce myself. "Mrs. Hughes? Hi, I'm Ray Magliozzi. I think I had you as a teacher." She took one look at me and said, "No, I don't think so, sonny." Ah, it was a different Alice Hughes. I was positively heartbroken. I had been all prepared to cry in her arms and tell her about my pathetic little life. What a bummer.

The Third Brother: My Sister

My sister Lucille was a complete blank as far as I was concerned. I barely remember her. She was never home. I do recall very vividly, however, that she and Mom used to fight all the time. You see, Sis was a slob. And I remember many times when my mother would open up Lucille's bedroom window and throw all of her stuff onto the street. Her room was a mess, though, and I honestly can't say that she didn't deserve it. Remember those pictures of the houses in Florida that got hit by Hurricane Andrew? That's what Lucille's room used to look like all the time - stuff all over the place. Every once in a while, Mom would get sick of it and toss everything out onto the street. Lucille would come home and see all her clothes and books and stuff strewn about the neighborhood, and then it was her turn to rant and rave. What a circus.

When I wasn't being amused by this, I would spend my time with Tommy, and even though I was just the little kid brother, he used to take me everywhere. He didn't always bring me back; he just took me places. He'd leave me there and I'd have to find my way home. By the time I was seven, I had learned all the bus and subway routes in the entire city.

Now, I know this is my bio, but I'm going to include something that should have been in Tommy's bio which I'm sure he forgot to include. When my brother graduated from college, he joined the army for six months. I think they call it the reserves. Then for the next seven years he was supposed to go to summer camp. Well, one year he reported to Camp Drum in New York, and they didn't have his papers. They didn't know who he was or where he was supposed to be. So he got in his car and he came home. They never called him back. Now that this tidbit of military intelligence is out, the Department of Defense is certainly going to come looking for him. "Magliozzi, you owe us seven years of summer camp." I can't wait.

Anyway, because my brother went to MIT, I guess it was predetermined that I would go there too. I had no choice. And while I was there I studied everything and really learned nothing, and I eventually graduated from MIT in 1972. I ended up with a degree in humanities and science. MIT is known for its humanities program. After all, with a name like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, you know they must have a splendid humanities department.

Sophomore Year "Abroad"

I took a year off in the middle of my MIT education and joined VISTA, the Volunteers in Service to America program. It was my sophomore year abroad, except I didn't go abroad; I went to Texas. And we did things like organize high school equivalency programs for adults, and some community organizing. It was pretty enlightening, all in all--basically we were radicals causing trouble.

Most importantly, it was where I met my future wife, Monique. Actually, we met in Norman, Oklahoma. We were doing all these little VISTA training games together. We met rappelling off a mountainside. I kid you not. I (cleverly) asked her to marry me while I was holding her safety line. She accepted, of course. We came back to Cambridge and got married, and Monique worked my way through a couple of senior years at MIT.

A Magliozzi in the North Woods

After college, I decided I wanted to try teaching. Why? Well, I knew I could do a better job than most of my teachers had done. So I got a job teaching science to unsuspecting kids in Bennington, Vermont.

We froze our butts off. We couldn't wait to get out of there. Between the snow, the mud season, and the black flies, it was too much for us to handle. I will admit that I really did enjoy the fall. Fall in Vermont is awesome, all two weeks of it. But, man, winter sure comes on quickly and with a fury, and it stays a long time. My Mediterranean heritage just wouldn't allow it. What made matters worse was that Vermonters really weren't very friendly. I think you have to have a few generations buried there before they'll really accept you. It's probably different now, but we were definitely considered to be interlopers back then. Not only did we come from "someplace else," but we had funny-sounding last names and I had this Cuban-looking dark skin. They probably thought I was smuggling cigars from Havana. So they didn't like me.

How I Saved Thomas from a Life of Indolence and Vagrancy

So there we were, Monique and I, in Bennington, Vermont, freezing all of our appendages off. At about the same time, Tom became self-unemployed. He was basically a bum, and he spent his days hanging out in Harvard Square drinking coffee. I knew the best way to keep him out of trouble was to get him working, and Mom called me every day, begging me to rescue him. We decided to open Hacker's Haven to save Tommy from a life of vagrancy. This was the time when everyone was working on his own car, so we thought, and our idea was to open a garage where people could do their own work and we'd rent space and tools to them.

We knew our idea was brilliant and thought we'd have wheelbarrows full of money to show for it. Of course, the do-it-yourselfers who came in were such klutzes that we felt sorry for them, and we'd end up working on their cars for $2.50 an hour, which is what they were paying to supposedly do their own work. So we ended up fixing all the cars that came in. I mean, if some poor chump is spending all day trying to change his spark plugs, you can't help but give him a hand. Consequently, we ended up helping everyone all the time, and we made no money at all. We started hiring people to help out, and eventually the place just sort of evolved into what is now, Ray's Garage. It was fun, though. We had some incredible laughs and we met some great people. We also met some weirdos, dingbats and screwballs. We somehow managed to attract the most incredible mix of characters to Hacker's Haven. This was Cambridge in the early '70s, and there were some real wacked-out people around then (still are, for that matter).

I'll never forget this one guy, Joe Schram. We had this huge coffeepot that held 75 cups, and I swear he must have had 40 cups of coffee from that thing each time he was there. As you might imagine, by the end of the day he was flying. I mean really flying. The longer he stayed, the faster he worked. Then one day Joe told us that he had to finish his car that day because he had to leave the state. Why? Well, he was being pursued by space aliens. Sure enough, he worked on that car all day, drinking coffee with one hand, turning the wrenches with the other. Amazingly, the thing started up. We watched as he drove his car out the door, stepped on the brake pedal, and crashed that wreck into the building across the street. I'm sure those aliens caught up with him, because we never saw him again.

Monique, Andrew, Louie, Philly and a Cat Named Doug.

Monique and I have two kids: Andrew's 23 and Louie's 32. Lou is married with two young boys of his own -- Lucas and, yes, another Raymond. Louie works in public safety for M.I.T. Drew is recently married, and has demonstrated some un-Magliozzi-like competence by starting his own Boston-based tutoring company as well as a new company that does online college admissions advising and offers a free online Q&A forum.

Our most successful offspring is Scout, our border collie. Under Monique's diligent coaching, Scout has been making a name for herself among the elite of the doggy-agility world. Sadly, our other pet, Dougie the cat, named by Drew after our esteemed Producer, recently went to the litter box in the sky.

These days I pretty much run the garage and work on Car Talk. The garage is still very much a full-time job. I get there at 8:00 in the morning or so and don't leave until, oh, maybe 9:00 in the morning. (Just kidding. I'm there all day.) I have four guys working at the garage, if you count both humans and subhumans. I'm still very much involved, and I still enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together again. Except now I can do it and actually charge for it. And I've gotten better at it over the years. Every time I do a job I have fewer and fewer parts left over. What a great feeling! And, of course, there's Car Talk too. That consists of doing the show, driving all the new cars that come out, and trying frantically to come up with a mediocre new Puzzler each week. I spend most of my time avoiding memos from Dougie. He's always trying to professionalize us. If you've heard the show recently, you know he hasn't had a whole lot of luck, and I'm doing my best at avoiding his advice.

 

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Ray Magliozzi